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Can You Design User Experience?

Can You Design User Experience?

I was sifting through an interesting user experience article recently when I ran across an inline quote by someone likely to be smarter than me. You know the kind, related to the topic of the article and supportive of an assertion within the article. It went something like this...


"There's a lot of hubris hidden in the term 'user experience design.' We can't design experiences. Experiences are reactions to the things we design." 
Travis Gertz 

Can’t design experiences? Experience as reactions only? Is he implying that the end-user take away is completely outside of UX developers' sphere of influence? Anyway, I liked the quote enough to copy it into the Google doc where I store these things for later consideration or use (with credit to the source of course). But this one - after I looked up hubris - was simple enough to stick in my head for the car ride home from work. So instead of "singing" along with Green Day that afternoon, I found myself discussing this nugget of wisdom with the little guys that live in my head, some of whom were chanting “horse hockey.” The author seemed to be challenging the validity of the term, perhaps even the practice of user experience design, with the assertion that “we can’t design experiences”.

Those guys in my head kept saying that there must be an expectation, a plan, a something to guide our strategic and design teams toward building a UI that results in some kind of predictable experience that users might take away from their interaction with an application (or whatever thing you may be constructing). Sure, the ACTUAL experience may vary from what was designed or expected, but we should be measuring this variation anyway in order to determine what to do about it so that actions and outcomes provide value to that user and to the business providing the application.

Jared Spool, who has been studying usability since before I had a driver’s license, spends a lot of time touting the benefits of intentionality in design to create specific kinds of experiences. Jared provides detailed examples that describe how Apple, Disney and other organizations thoughtfully and intentionally apply design to create experiences for their users in both online and in the physical worlds. 

So here’s my response to Mr. Gertz’s quote, which I hope that someone will find interesting enough to let it interrupt their end-of-day punk rock sing-along:

User experience can be designed and it can be measured. If we do our homework, those of us who practice the art of UX can create things that satisfy - even thrill - our users in unexpected ways. All we need do to confirm that we hit the mark is ask.

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About the author

Steve Vest, User Experience Architect, Small Footprint. After 17 years and several roles within the website and application business, Steve claims to know a thing or two about UI design, UX and working with clients and dev teams to build and evolve quality interactive products. He is passionate about the art and science of making end users feel satisfied and competent while creating experiences that evoke the “I really like how this thing works” rating.
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